What counts? An exploration of engagement with six young people escaping homelessness.


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Helleren, Simone M (2021). What counts? An exploration of engagement with six young people escaping homelessness. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis is situated in the uncertain and complex territory of homelessness. The industry tries to tidy up complexity with measurement, foreclosing difficult debates that involve blame, shame and stigma.

Tom, Max, Braden, Akira, Holly and Mark are all participants in a Payment by Results programme for young people seen to be ‘essentially too hard to help’ (Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) 2014, p.5). This thesis explores their past and current attempts to engage.

Engagement, trust and care are all terms written about in homelessness literature, but they need to be applied in a more rigorous and theorised way to advance real understanding relevant to practice.

This thesis has reassembled a whole picture of experience otherwise fractured by the gaze of discrete services, relationships and time using a unique multi-perspectival and co- produced methodology which tracks the young people’s experiences over 15 months. The research with young people is augmented by interviews with significant people in their lives including their Support Workers.

The analysis demonstrates that trust is foundational for engagement, and four elements foster trust, including 1. responsiveness, 2. empathy and reciprocity, 3. flexibility and choice. However, these elements are not always appropriate and not always helpful. It is the final element ― that I am calling 4. caring attention or attentiveness ― which shapes practices and qualities to the individual and the context and helps to produce full-on engagement.

However, trust is difficult to win and harder to sustain and the paradoxical nature of helping work, especially on the frontline, causes anxiety and displacement activities that take our attention away from the person before us.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/11844


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